Your Visual System

Close up of human eye

How the Eyes and Brain Work Together

Healthy eyes aren't the only factor in good vision. A complex partnership between the eyes and brain is needed to view a beautiful sunset at the end of the day or read the words on a page.

The Eye/Brain Connection

Light rays enter your eye when you look at an object. Your cornea (the clear layer of tissue over the iris and pupils) and your lens (the transparent disc inside your eyes) bend or refract the rays on your retina.

The retina, a light-sensing layer of cells at the back of the eye, turns the light rays into electrical impulses. The impulses are then sent to the occipital lobe of the brain through the optic nerve. The brain processes the impulses received from each eye and combines them into a single recognizable image.

Your brain also controls the muscles and nerves that serve your eyes, helps you orient your body based on visual cues, and stores images so that you can remember them later. All of these things happen so fast that you're not even aware of them.

When Things Go Wrong

Vision problems can be caused by issues with your eyes, muscles, nerves, brain, or the connection between your eyes and brain. Common problems include:

  • Refractive Errors. Refractive errors, like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, cause blurry vision but can be corrected by wearing eyeglasses or using contact lenses. More than 150 million Americans have refractive errors, according to the National Eye Institute.
  • Optic Nerve Damage. Glaucoma and other diseases can damage the optic nerve, affecting the nerve's ability to send electrical impulses to the brain. If your optic nerve is damaged, you may have partial or full vision loss.
  • Eye Diseases and Conditions. Age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, and other diseases and conditions that affect the eye may damage your vision.
  • Eye Teaming and Alignment Issues. If your eye movements aren't coordinated or your eyes aren't aligned properly, your brain may struggle to process the information it receives. As a result, you may experience blurry vision, double vision, headaches, or eyestrain. Although weak eye muscles can sometimes be to blame for these problems, poor brain control of the muscles may also be an issue.
  • Visual Perception Problems. Visual perception problems occur when your brain struggles to interpret the information received from your eyes. Poor visual perception may make it difficult to concentrate, identify objects, distinguish left from right, or recognize numbers or letters.
  • Visual Memory Difficulties. You may have difficulty with your short- or long-term memory if your brain doesn't process and store images properly. Visual memory problems can affect your ability to remember what you've read or copy words or letters correctly.
  • Poor Tracking Ability. Tracking is a crucial visual skill that makes it possible to read comfortably, follow the path of a ball in the sky, or easily change your focus from the words on a screen to objects in the distance.
  • Damage Due to Strokes and Concussions. Strokes and concussions can affect the areas of your brain responsible for vision and cause blurred or double vision, balance problems, headaches, light sensitivity, and memory issues.

Improving a Faulty Eye/Brain Connection

Vision issues that affect the connection between the brain and eye don't have to become lifelong issues. In fact, improving communication between the brain and the eyes with vision therapy offers an effective way to treat brain damage due to strokes and concussions. It can also improve eye teaming, tracking, focusing, eye movement, visual memory, or perception problems.

Vision therapies strengthen existing eye/brain connections and may even create new pathways in the brain in some cases. Your vision therapist uses a variety of tools and activities designed to enhance and improve your vision.

During a vision therapy session, you may play a video game that helps you coordinate the movement of your eyes or improve your side vision, or you might participate in a hands-on activity designed to fine-tune your tracking or focusing ability. Balance boards, special lenses, prisms, filters, and other devices and aids may also be part of your vision therapy plan.

Although vision therapy is often recommended for children, it can also be helpful for people of all ages. In fact, the brain may remain surprisingly flexible long past childhood.

Could vision therapy help you improve your vision? Contact our office to schedule an appointment to schedule a comprehensive eye examination.

Sources:

All About Vision: How Does the Brain Control Eyesight

American Optometric Association: Eye Coordination

College of Optometrists in Vision Development: What Is Vision Therapy?

National Eye Institute: Refractive Errors

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